Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki: Two directions

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
8:53
PM PT
By Baxter Holmes
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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DALLAS -- On one side: a title contender whose star took less money.

On the other: a rebuilding crew, starring the NBA's highest-paid player.

For the traits that Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki share as 36-year-olds among the league's top-10 all-time leading scorers, that stark difference stood out most Friday during the Dallas Mavericks' 140-106 demolition of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Of course, it's not so simple to say that the 3-10 Lakers are struggling just because Bryant accepted a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension last season, a deal that eats a huge chunk of the Lakers' salary cap space.

[+] EnlargeKobe Bryant
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsKobe Bryant shared a few words with Mavs owner Mark Cuban after the game.
And it's also not so simple to say that the 10-3 Dallas Mavericks are chasing a championship just because Nowitzki re-signed this summer at $25 million over three years, a bargain that allowed the team to afford other impact additions.

Other factors are many: deals that never were (Chris Paul, thanks to "basketball reasons") and those that never panned out (Steve Nash, thanks to injuries); players that didn't stay (Dwight Howard) and free agents who never came (Carmelo Anthony).

Indeed, not all has gone the Lakers' way, though they haven't done too shabby historically when you consider the 16 banners hanging in Staples Center.

But in the end, they're bound for the lottery, under construction until further notice, and Bryant and his huge deal are targeted as a key reason for their plight.

"Did I take a discount? Yeah," Bryant said after a morning shootaround here, when he discussed his contract more than at any point since signing it.

"Did I take as big a discount as some of you fans would want me to? No.

"Is it a big enough discount to help us be a contender? Yeah.

"So what we try to do is be in a situation where they take care of the player and the player takes care of the organization enough to put us in a championship predicament eventually."

Bryant almost certainly didn't mean to use the phrase "championship predicament." But if it was a Freudian slip, well, it sure was fitting.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban stated the obvious about his squad: Nowitzki's deal made a huge impact in helping shape the roster, giving them the financial flexibility to add the high-profile and, more important, promising young free agent in Chandler Parsons that they had been chasing for so long.

"To me, it's not about money, it's about winning," Cuban said. "Different players have different attitudes."

Could a player make $24 million in the NBA's current punitive financial climate (as Bryant does this season) and legitimately say they’re interested in winning?

"Yeah, of course, as long as you can convince everybody else that you need to come play for the minimum," Cuban said with a laugh.

Cuban has long been poking fun at the Lakers on this topic, once calling them Shaq, Kobe and the "band of merry minimum [-salaried players]" in 2000 during Cuban's first season as an owner.

Nowitzki echoed Cuban's point that his deal was about winning, not money.

"I wanted to be on a good team," Nowitzki said. "I wanted to compete my last couple of years at the highest level. Ever since after the championship, we had a couple of rough years. We missed the playoffs one year, were the eighth seed twice I think, so that was really the main decision. I wanted to play at a high level my last couple years, and it kind of worked out with getting Parsons, with getting Tyson [Chandler] back here. We feel like we've got a good group, and hopefully we can make it work."

Bryant argued that Nowitzki's deal meant the German forward "wasn't playing in Los Angeles," and that difference matters.

After all, the Lakers have a 20-year, $3 billion deal with Time Warner Cable that hinges on ratings. They need Bryant, not only for that, but to justify ticket prices, to keep interest high during lost seasons. His value goes far beyond the court.

Yet the high cost of paying their cash cow what he legitimately might be worth ultimately hurts the Lakers' efforts to build around him, to be a contender.

Nowitzki will spend his golden years chasing another ring, while Bryant, for now, is only chasing personal records. Other factors are many, of course, but that stark difference is what rose above all else Friday, as two legends headed in opposite directions, their teams following suit.

ESPNDallas.com reporter Tim MacMahon contributed to this report.

Nowitzki, Mavericks roll over Lakers 140-106

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
8:01
PM PT
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DALLAS -- Dirk Nowitzki scored 23 points in yet another efficient shooting effort and the Dallas Mavericks used the NBA's highest-scoring offense to roll to a 140-106 victory against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night.

The Mavericks won their sixth straight game overall and fourth in a row against the Lakers, who were swept by Dallas in the regular season for the first time in 2013-14.

Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Chandler Parsons were a combined 23 of 33 from the field as the Mavericks had season highs in points, shooting percentage (62 percent) and assists (37). Parsons had 21 points and Ellis scored 20.

Kobe Bryant missed his first eight shots and was 6 of 22 for 17 points. Jeremy Lin had 18 to lead the Lakers, who came in with their first two-game winning streak.


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Mavs 140, Lakers 106: Modest streak over

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
7:58
PM PT
By Baxter Holmes
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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DALLAS -- So much for the Los Angeles’ Lakers winning streak. After two straight road wins fueled by the return of a so-called savior who goes by the name Swaggy P, the Lakers returned back to earth in embarrassing fashion, trailing the Dallas Mavericks by as much as 38. Nick Young wasn't much of a factor, by the way, as he scored just five points off the bench.

Turning point: The Lakers had been allowing 110 points per game, and they gave up that in three quarters. It all went away from them in that third frame, when they were outscored 42-24, and it was all downhill from there, with the fourth quarter turning into lopsided garbage time during which many fans filed out to find a better way to spend their Friday night.

Stat of the game: 140. The Mavericks’ final point total tied for their most ever at the American Airlines Center. They also scored that much April 5, 2009 against Phoenix.

More fun with numbers: The Mavericks hit 18 3-pointers, the Lakers hit 5. The Mavericks had three players score 20 or more points, the Lakers had none.

Kobe Bryant update: He scored 17 points on 22 shots in 31 minutes. Not his finest outing. On the other side, Dirk Nowitzki had a tidy 23 points on 10 shots in 21 minutes.

Kobe 'not going for' discount deals

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
11:31
AM PT
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DALLAS -- Kobe Bryant considers the public pressure for longtime NBA stars to take hometown-discount deals, such as Dirk Nowitzki's contract, "a big coup" for NBA owners.

"It's the popular thing to do," Bryant said after the Los Angeles Lakers' shootaround prior to Friday night's 140-106 loss to Nowitzki's Dallas Mavericks. "The player takes less, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I think it's a big coup for the owners to put players in situations where public perception puts pressure on them to take less money. Because if you don't, then you get criticized for it.

"It's absolutely brilliant, but I'm not going for it. I know the new head of the players' association ain't going for it, either."

Bryant, 36, agreed to a two-year, $48.5 million extension with the Lakers last season, when he was recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. The deal is for less than Bryant was eligible to make on a maximum contract but still makes him the highest-paid player in the league.

Nowitzki, 36, re-signed with the Mavs this summer for $25 million over three years, taking far less than his market value to leave Dallas owner Mark Cuban enough salary-cap space to make roster upgrades.

"I wanted to be on a good team," Nowitzki said after scoring 23 points in 21 minutes during the Mavs' rout Friday. "I wanted to compete my last couple of years at the highest level. Ever since after the championship, we had a couple of rough years. We missed the playoffs one year, were the eighth seed twice I think, so that was really the main decision.

"I wanted to play at a high level my last couple years, and it kind of worked out with getting Parsons, with getting Tyson back here. We feel like we've got a good group, and hopefully we can make it work."

What does Bryant think about Nowitzki, who has never used an agent, taking such a steep hometown discount?

"I think it means he's not playing in Los Angeles," Bryant said with a laugh.

Cuban said Nowitzki's knowledge of the collective bargaining agreement and his desire to play for a contender were the primary factors in determining the size of his contract, not public perception.

"First of all, not every player in the NBA, not every owner in the NBA is motivated purely by money," said Cuban, adding that fans put pressure on owners to spend every penny possible or be labeled as cheap. "If you look at our ticket prices, how many times have we lowered them? How many times have we paid the luxury tax? How many times have I told you guys, 'I don't care if we lose money, I want to win'? You know my motivations, and I think Dirk's motivations are similar."

Nowitzki, who has made more than $200 million during his career, has said several times that the chance to win a second championship is much more important to him than money during his basketball golden years. The Mavs, whose offseason acquisitions included center Tyson Chandler


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Devin Harris (leg) out vs. Lakers

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
11:30
AM PT
MacMahon By Tim MacMahon
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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DALLAS -- Mavericks guard Devin Harris will miss his second consecutive game Friday night against the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Mavs are being mysteriously elusive about details of Harris' lower right leg injury.

Harris declined to speak to the media after the Mavs’ shootaround, saying he had been told not to say anything and deferring questions to coach Rick Carlisle.

“He’s doing a little bit better,” Carlisle said. “We’ll have an announcement probably later in the day.”

About a half hour later, Carlisle sent reporters a text message saying Harris was out against the Lakers.

Carlisle declined to answer any follow-up questions about Harris, including how much the veteran guard participated in the shootaround.

Harris, who is averaging 8.6 points and 4.4 assists per game, did not play in the second half of Monday’s win over the Charlotte Hornets and sat out Wednesday’s win over the Washington Wizards. He said during the road trip that his leg had been bothering him for about a week before the decision was made for him to rest.
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'SportsNation' hosts Michelle Beadle and Marcellus Wiley, along with guest Larry King, discuss whether Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard looked bad for not playing against the Lakers.

3 Points: Is effort cause for poor start?

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
8:00
AM PT
By ESPNLosAngeles.com
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Byron ScottEzra Shaw/Getty ImagesByron Scott is big on effort, but the Lakers' problems probably run way deeper than that.

Each week, ESPN.com Lakers beat writer Baxter Holmes, along with ESPN.com NBA writers Ramona Shelburne and Arash Markazi, will weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Los Angeles Lakers followers.

1. Can the Lakers' poor start simply be blamed on effort, as Byron Scott has said?

Holmes: Of course not. The Lakers' problems are many. They've been plagued with injuries (Steve Nash, Julius Randle, Ryan Kelly, Nick Young), have had a one-man show on offense that while entertaining has been problematic, and, last but not least, they're playing in a brutally tough conference. The Lakers could play at maximum effort and it might help make their games more competitive, but they lack talent. Simple as that.

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What is the biggest issue for the Lakers during their slow start?

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Discuss (Total votes: 2,513)

Shelburne: Not entirely. Effort was definitely a component of the 1-9 start. But the Lakers also played one of the toughest schedules in the NBA without three of their top players (Young, Nash and Randle). They had far less talent than most of the teams they were facing, which led to some hero ball from Kobe Bryant. That can demoralize his teammates, who don't get into a rhythm offensively, which carries over to the defensive side of the ball. Yes, that was a huge problem and part of the losses. But the lack of talent, strength of schedule and injuries were more important.

Markazi: It's more than effort, of course. This is not a good team to put it bluntly. If you look at this team on paper and look at their results so far this season they should make sense. Unless there were some delusions of grandeur about what Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer could provide on a regular basis or a false sense of hope that Kobe wouldn't shoot every time he was open, the poor start should have been expected regardless of the effort, which hasn't always been bad.


2. Is Jeremy Lin right when he says communication and trust top his list for the Lakers' problems?

Holmes: Absolutely. A large part of that stems from many new players playing in a new system, but it doesn't help that Kobe has, up until their win at Atlanta, largely eschewed his teammates on offense. As Boozer said after the Hawks' win, when they all touch the ball, they all feel involved and engaged, which leads to them playing more like a team on both ends but especially on defense. Scott has also noted that the bigs haven't communicated well with the guards on defense, which he said has led to several lapses.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Lin
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesJeremy Lin is on to something when he talks about some of the major issues for the Lakers.
Shelburne: Yes, but not in the way that quote read. When Lin said "communication" and "trust" were the Lakers' biggest issues, that was code for Bryant not keeping his teammates feeling involved in what the team is doing. He just didn't want to say that out loud and cause a larger rift. Whether Lin is right is debatable. Bryant is a smart basketball player who knows how to win games. He also has heard he shoots too much for 19 years. It's not as if he doesn't recognize the drawbacks of that style of play. He's playing that way because he didn't have faith in his teammates to score. That's the real trust issue. And it can only be corrected by guys like Lin and Boozer proving Bryant wrong and scoring the way they're capable of.

Markazi: This team has a lot of problems, but if we start with the premise that the guys in the locker room are the guys that they will have all season and not worry about the future then yes, communication and trust are two big problems. The Lakers can worry about their more pressing problems for a legitimate point guard and center in the offseason. The only way the Lakers can improve their communication and trust is by moving the ball around and playing together, which, of course, hasn't always been the case so far.


3. Is it on Kobe Bryant to make sure team morale doesn't become an issue?

Holmes: Yes. It's on Kobe to do pretty much everything. In fact, in one way or another, he's responsible for almost every aspect of the team and, to a greater degree, what goes on in the organization. But as the veteran who has been on rebuilding teams, he can speak from experience to the new and younger players about how to stay focused on the process without getting too downtrodden after blowout wins. Everyone in the locker room will look to him to lead them.

[+] EnlargeKobe Bryant
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesKobe Bryant's experience and wisdom are what is needed to help the Lakers through tough times.
Shelburne: Yes. That's the responsibility he accepted when he signed on to be the NBA's highest-paid player.

Markazi: It's on everyone but it begins with Scott and Bryant. If the players feel that Scott will simply do whatever Kobe wants, and Kobe continues to shoot 30 times a game, regardless of how many he makes, morale will suffer and it's going to be a long season. Everyone on this team has to buy in for the morale to improve and that's on both Bryant and Scott.

Kobe: All say things we don't mean

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
10:58
PM PT
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HOUSTON -- Dwight Howard sat out Wednesday's 98-92 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers with a sprained right knee, but the Houston Rockets center was still a topic of discussion for his former teammate, Lakers star Kobe Bryant.

Bryant was asked after the game whether he considers Howard to be a "p---y," the term Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant was overheard calling Howard during a recent game.

"No, I don't feel that way. I don't think Kevin does, either," said Bryant, who scored a game-high 29 points against the Rockets. "In moments of confrontation during a game, you'll say things in the heat of the moment.

"I know Dwight. I'm sure Kevin does. We don't really feel that way about him. It's like when you get in an argument with somebody, you'll say things out of frustration, out of anger, that you don't really mean."

Bryant and Howard were Lakers teammates during the 2012-13 season, when they often clashed before Howard eventually departed to join the Rockets as a free agent.

Then when they faced off Oct. 28 in Los Angeles, a 108-90 Rockets win, Howard elbowed Bryant in the chin after grabbing an offensive rebound, and the two had to be separated, although that didn't stop them from trash-talking each other, eventually drawing technical fouls.

In that game, Bryant was heard calling Howard "soft," among other things.


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HOUSTON -- Kobe Bryant had 29 points, Wesley Johnson made key free throws down the stretch and the Los Angeles Lakers took advantage of Dwight Howard's absence Wednesday night in a 98-92 victory over the Houston Rockets.

It was the second consecutive win for the Lakers following a 1-9 start.

Los Angeles used a 7-1 run, highlighted by Bryant's three-point play and capped by four free throws from Johnson, to take a 94-92 lead with less than a minute left. Nick Young and Bryant added two free throws apiece to secure the victory.

Tarik Black, a rookie who was filling in for the injured Howard, missed a free throw and a jump shot down the stretch.

James Harden led the Rockets with 24 points.


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Lakers 98, Rockets 92: L.A. on a win streak

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
9:14
PM PT
By Baxter Holmes
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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HOUSTON -- A winning streak for the Los Angeles Lakers? Indeed. They closed the game on a 12-1 run to pull out a 98-92 victory in the final minute against the 9-3 Rockets, who were without Dwight Howard (strained right knee). The Lakers improved to 3-9 and, more importantly, 2-0 with Nick Young this season.

Play of the game: Wesley Johnson stripped James Harden of the ball out near the 3-point line, streaked down the court and made a layup while being fouled by Harden. After Johnson converted the free throw, the Lakers led 94-92 with 43.2 seconds left. They were able to hang on from there.

Stat of the night: The Rockets set up shop outside the 3-point arc and never strayed too far, launching 38 attempts. They hit 15 and outscored the Lakers 45-15 from distance.

Second stat of the night: While the Lakers were outscored on the outside, they had a 38-20 advantage in points in the paint.

Player of the game: This one goes to Young, the Lakers reserve guard who scored eight of his 16 points in the fourth quarter to help give his team an edge in a back-and-forth affair with 10 lead changes.

Kobe Bryant update: Bryant took a game-high 28 shots, but he struggled, shooting 10-of-28 from the field. Bryant shot 6-of-11 in the first half, but just 4-of-17 in the second. He knocked down 8 of 10 from the charity stripe and added seven assists and five rebounds.

Kobe's shot selection ailing Lakers

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
4:54
PM PT
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Tom Haberstroh says Kobe Bryant is taking shots a historic rate -- and it's hurting the Lakers so much that, despite his incredible talent, the team performs better when he is on the bench.

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SportsNation's Michelle Beadle and Marcellus Wiley, along with Time Warner Cable analyst Dave Miller, discuss if the Los Angeles Lakers are still a team that free agents would want to sign with.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Kobe Bryant
PTS AST STL MIN
26.7 4.2 1.4 35.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 9.7
AssistsJ. Lin 4.8
StealsK. Bryant 1.4
BlocksE. Davis 1.4